The limitations of explanations (and of their sources)

January 6, 2013

I have encountered a pattern among people who see situations only from one perspective, the perspective of a self so closed off from itself, and hence from others, that it cannot put itself in the shoes of others:  the person promises to do something important for my welfare and then finds it inconvenient or difficult to do and so doesn’t do it, I pipe up with some sort of protest, and the person then explains why they said what they said originally and why they’re doing what they’re doing now (occasionally they also re-promise, but it is even clearer that that promise is not going to be kept).

The part I am continually amazed at is that they really don’t comprehend that their explanation does not meet the need that is also not being met by not doing that which was promised.  To put it somewhat rudely, do I really care why they’re not following through?  In one case it was a forgotten theater ticket; “Yes, I made plans over weeks to drive you home from surgery but I just realized I have a ticket to a theater matinee performance,” he said the day before my surgery.   That’s the easiest example for me to write about, but there are half a dozen more, at least, in my life.  The promises are equally explicit and about significant matters, and the person just doesn’t do it.

What I’m writing about here is Stage 2:  the explanation.  Because sometimes the person does feel compelled to explain, especially if I pipe up and ask for what I need and what they said they would do.

It’s sort of the “That and 50 cents will get you a ride on the subway” kind of issue:  just what am I supposed to do with the explanation?  Wrap it around my naked self like a torn blanket that does not cover?  Use it to produce magically another person to drive me home from the surgery?  Take it to mean the person does care and that should be enough, even though they do not come to grips with the difficulty to me from the situation they have left me in?  They have induced me to extend myself and then not come through with the support to make that extension work — where do they think that support will come from if they bow out?

My own take on this is that it is a path towards a fuller relationship with God:  to quote Dave Carter, “in praise or lamentation, peace or desperation / any way I do, I come into the presence of the lord” (from “any way I do”).  God is the dance teacher who will dance with me when my date who brought me to the dance won’t, and this is a blessing.

The catch is getting hung up in an argument with the human partner who won’t dance with me.  They want me to see it their way and assure them it’s okay in a way that it’s not.  It is okay in the great scheme of things; it’s by their own system of values and view of the world that it’s not okay.  I don’t have to subscribe to their system of values and view of the world, and I don’t, but I also can’t get them to subscribe to my system of values, view of the world, or view of the particular situation and my (unmet) needs, any better than they can get me to subscribe to theirs.  If I get hung up on getting an acknowledgement, I create difficulty for myself.

To go back to my surgery example, I needed the ride then, I would have chosen a different appointment and/or made arrangements with someone else for a ride, had they not promised.

In the other situations, a way to regroup has actually been less clear.  They have involved things others could not provide for me, or me for myself (or children).  There has been real damage as a result.  I have learned enough to know that those are my issues now to deal with, and I have learned enough to know that no one has to make amends to me or that such amends will meet the original needs.  What I am still struggling with is acceptance, the “How could you?” part of my reaction.  One of the tools that has helped me here is thinking about the meaning of “No room at the inn” in the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus — it helps me to know that this is a part of what is encountered on a spiritual journey.

The person will never see themselves as I see them, is what I can get stuck on, especially if they want to have some kind of on-going connection with me.  It’s like the tunnel constructed by drilling in from both sides of the mountain that doesn’t meet in the middle.

For me, the lesson seems to be, “It happens, it’s not the end of the world, it’s painful, difficult, etc., etc., but there are always forces greater than I who can guide me through and through whom I can feel sustained.”

I know others have foundered trying to land this airplane, that is, trying to play out an ending to this script that doesn’t look like the end of a grand or soap opera (with bodies strewn all over the stage).  Their difficulties finding a way through inform how I handle my turn.  And I know that the more mature age at which I have encountered this scenario has helped, as has my having been happily married for a reasonably long period of time before this.

But it’s still a rough landing, I don’t deny it.  Some of the folks who have gone before me have said that it has helped them come to terms with their own attempt to hear me learn from their experience, to hear me point out what helps I have had that they did not, and to hear me point out how hard I find this.

In the end, some of this story is about self-forgiveness, forgiving the self for trusting another human being and having that trust have been unsuitable for the person and situation, and forgiving the self for having had the need to trust that other human being at all in the first place.

The other part, for me, is about learning to recognize the difference between expectations I can have of God and expectations I can have of people, even people who want me to see them otherwise.

Writers seem to preach that writing about things helps expiate them or accept them or see them in a new light.  Maybe it’s testimony to the fact that I am not a writer that I don’t find that to be true, or maybe it’s just that I haven’t written about these things thoroughly enough or precisely enough yet.

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2 Responses to “The limitations of explanations (and of their sources)”

  1. Mario Says:

    Wonderful site you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article?

    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get feed-back from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Thank you so much.

      My perspective in this post comes out of a lot of experience with dealing with people who don’t take other people’s needs into account on a reliable basis. To help me analyze what goes wrong in the interaction and what I contribute to it, and maybe even why, I have benefited from principles and insights I’ve found in Al-Anon, Richard Rohr, Henri Nouwen, writings I’ve found on line about “narcissism” and “personality disorders,” and my work on myself to try to become more self-aware and more aware of the sources of others’ behavior. Books on having difficult conversations I’ve also found helpful. If I think of more sources I draw on, I’ll try to post them, too.


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